The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
Grove Press, New York, 2006
From my own TBR pile. This novel won the 2006 Man Booker Prize and was shortlisted for the 2007 Orange Prize. I read this book for Orange July. Desai begins her novel with a poem by Jorge Luis Borges. It’s themes wind throughout The Inheritance of Loss.
BOAST OF QUIETNESS
Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigous than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and death, I observe the ambitious
and would like to understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rythym of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensible, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away
he doesn’t expect to arrive.
JORGE LUIS BORGES
Recently orphaned, Sai arrives at her Grandfather’s isolated house, nestled at the foot of Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the Himalayas. The cook fusses over, feeds her and cares for her and her Grandfather, an embittered retired Judge. But Cook is distracted, thinking of his son, Biju, an illegal immigrant finding work in one restaurant after another deep in New York City.
There are many others involved in this story, all of them portrayed with great humor and compassion.
Sai and cook trudged down the long path that traveled thin and black as a rat snake up and down the hills, and the cook showed her the landmarks of her new home, pointed out the houses and told her who lived where. There was Uncle Potty, of course, their nearest neighbor, who had bought his land from the judge years ago, a gentleman farmer and a drunk; and his friend Father Booty of the Swiss dairy, who spent each evening drinking with Uncle Potty…Opposite the hen house, so they could get their eggs easily, lived a pair of Afghan princesses whose father had gone to Brighton on holiday and returned to find the British had seated someone else on his throne….
And finally there was Noni (Nonita), who lived with her sister Lola (Lalita) in a rose-covered cottage maned Mon Ami. When Lola’s husband had died of a heart attack, Noni, the spinster, had moved in with her sister, the widow. They lived on his pension, but still they needed more money, what with endless repairs being done to the house, the price of everything rising in the bazaar, and the wages of their maid, sweeper, watchman, and gardener. From page 47.
The novel jumps between continents, between time periods and between peoples’ stories to unveil their personal and political histories. It rushes, portraying the desires of those who wish to come to the United States and prosper, in a way that is unnerving. It shows that this dream can be a nightmare. Then The Inheritance of Loss suddenly slows, stepping in to a forest below the Himalayas where you can feel the humid air and hear the rustle of leaves. It is quite rich and beautifully written, packed with humor and the excitement and terror that fills our world. At times it is almost too much and I would have to stop reading, take a break, but I always went back for more.
Desai’s writing has inspired me to find out more about the geography and political history of this area of India. I normally read with an atlas nearby but The Inheritance of Loss has me digging deeper. I want to read more history, both ancient and modern. I would also like to read more fiction based in Bengal and Nepal. Any Suggestions?